Day 1: Arrive Porto, Portugal
Our adventure begins in Porto, Portugal's second-largest city and cultural capital of the beguiling North. Scenic Porto sits amid granite cliffs at the mouth of the Douro River and has long been a cosmopolitan trading center. Porto is rich in architectural gems from Roman, Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance eras. This afternoon we enjoy a tasting tour at one of the Port wine lodges across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, the ideal start to a wine-soaked week ahead! Then, we gather for a welcome dinner in a traditional restaurant, followed by a Port wine nightcap.
Day 2: Pocinho / Felgar—Casa de Santa Cruz
Today we journey by rail 100 miles up the Douro Valley, one of Europe's oldest winemaking regions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This valley, the only place authentic Port wine is produced, was defined and established as a protected region, or appellation, in 1756. Paralleling the riverbank on a small local train to Pocinho, we disembark here and continue to the sleepy village of Felgar, where we spend an afternoon and evening at Casa de Santa Cruz. This historic farmstead on the main village square has been beautifully restored by our hosts, Ana and Jorge. Before sunset we’ll take a walk down to the banks of the upper Rio Sabor, learning about life in this bucolic and traditional region as we go.
Day 3: Douro International Natural Park
We greet the morning with anticipation: it’s time to meet the river! After breakfast we drive to the put-in and, conditions permitting, paddle approximately five hours downstream. This is the international section of our trip, with Portugal on one riverbank and Spain on the other. The 335 square miles of rugged surrounding terrain is part of the Douro International Natural Park, created to protect the scenic landscape and a host of wildlife species including eagles, red kites, Griffon vultures, herons, wild boar and one of the last packs of wolves in the Tras-os-Montes region, which lives a few miles inland from the river. Natural vegetation covers the wild banks along this stretch of the river, including juniper, cork oak, holm oak and chestnut trees. Along the way, we'll stop on the banks for a picnic lunch. When we return to Casa de Santa Cruz, there's time for a swim before our hosts give us a tour of the historic house, sharing their passion for restoration and their commitment to this village that feels lost in time.
Day 4: Vila Nova de Foz Coa—Casa do Rio
A beautiful paddle is in store today. We’ll spend approximately four hours on the river, following the slow current from Barca d’Alva to just east of the mouth of the Coa River, a tributary of the Douro. We stop along the way for a picnic lunch, possibly savoring some low-hanging fruit that grows in spots along the riverbank. Our paddle ends at the stunning new Casa do Rio, an intimate luxury guest house surrounded by the vineyards of Quinta do Vallado, one of the premier producers of table wines in the Douro Valley. Set into a steep hillside with magnificent views over the river, the contemporary inn enjoys complete solitude. Relax on the terrace or enjoy a refreshing dip in the infinity pool following an afternoon stroll through the vineyards.
Day 5: Coa Valley Archaeological Site / Murca—Bairro do Casal
Today we take a break from paddling for an immersion in the rich history and Old World culture of the Coa Valley, which contains one of the world's most important ancient rock art sites. We'll depart by van for a guided tour of the extensive paleolithic drawings at Vila Nova de Foz Coa, discovered in the late 1980s and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998. The site comprises thousands of engraved drawings of horses, bovines and other animals, and human and abstract figures, dated from 22,000 to 10,000 B.C. Afterward, an indulgent lunch is served on the veranda of Quinta de Ervamoira-Ramos Pinto, a noted wine estate in the valley. This afternoon we drive on to Bairro do Casal, tucked into the scenic small village of Murca do Douro. In the surrounding countryside, vineyards are interspersed with granite mountains, chestnut forests, olive and almond orchards, and undulating fields of wheat. Capping off a truly rich day of discovery, we enjoy dinner at a fine restaurant perched above the shimmering Douro.
Day 6: Numao / Bairro do Casal
We’re back on the river for about three hours this morning, guiding our kayaks from the mouth of the Rio Sabor, a tributary of the Douro, to Numao. Here, another delightful winery tour and lunch are in store at Quinta Do Carrenho, one of the oldest quintas in the valley, where our hosts, the Verdelho family, offer a warm and gracious welcome. The quinta is now the home of Dona Berta, one of a small group of boutique wineries that have contributed to the Douro’s growing reputation for distinctive white and red table wines. We return this afternoon to Bairro do Casal, with time to relax by the pool, take a sauna or wander around the narrow lanes of Murca before savoring an outstanding dinner on the veranda of Bairro do Casal, lovingly prepared by our hosts.
Day 7: Casa de Casal de Loívos
We take to the river early this morning, first traveling by motorboat past a few of the more stunning local quintas—including Graham’s Quinta do Vesuvio, built in 1565, and Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas, established in 1820—to reconnect with our kayaks in Ferradosa. Launching from a small beach, we paddle about three hours through the striking Valera Gorge, a narrow granite canyon through which the Douro courses. Our destination is the quaint village of Tua where we enjoy a lunch of freshly caught fish at a traditional riverside restaurant. Then, a spectacular winding drive takes us up and over the hill to Casal de Loivos, an 18th-century manor house set high above the heart of the Douro Valley wine-producing region. The BBC gave this village manor house the accolade of one of the six best hotel views in the world, and we heartily concur as we survey the panorama below us. The Douro appears as a narrow, winding blue ribbon, wending its way between steep, vine-covered slopes and rows of rolling mountains dotted with the red tile roofs of centuries-old farmhouses. Before a sumptuous al fresco dinner on the terrace (weather permitting), we enjoy a tour of this historic manor house.
Day 8: Pinhao / Porto
Our sojourn on the river comes to an end with one of our favorite paddling stretches, from Tua to scenic Pinhao, a journey of about three hours. We are in the very center of the Douro demarcated Port wine region, with neat rows of grapevines terracing down the schist mountainsides and stately white stucco quintas dotting the hills high above the riverbanks. After lunch at a riverside cafe, there's time for a walk to see the splendid hand-painted ceramic tile work in the charming little train station, which is decorated with thousands of blue and white azulejos from the early 20th century showing pre-dam river and harvest scenes. We drive back to historic Porto for a festive farewell dinner, reveling in the memories we've made on Portugal's famous River of Wine.
Day 9: Porto / Depart
A transfer to the airport is included today for your departing flight.